Gift of Giving Project: NoHo Unites to Change the Lives of Hundreds of Kenyan Orphans

On Saturday, the North Hollywood (NoHo) community rallied together in support of a good cause: to help and give hope to needy orphans in Nairobi, Kenya.  This is truly a grassroots effort led by a teacher and a group of students.  With the help of the local community, a North Hollywood High School teacher and leadership advisor James McVay, along with 40 juniors and seniors at the high school, the Gift of Giving Project is hoping to change the lives of hundreds of orphans.  At its core, this is about one community coming together to help out another community.

McVay oversees the North Hollywood High School Leadership Council.  Community service is an important tenet of the group.  McVay explains, “we teach students the importance of civic responsibility.”  When Fanny Martinez, project manager of the Gift of Giving Project, approached the school with the idea, McVay says it wasn’t a tough sell to the kids.  “They jumped all over it,” he says.

McVay with students from the Hollywood Leadership Council

The goal of this weekend’s event was to raise money to purchase a 40-foot shipping container that will later be converted into a community library for the Joy Divine Orphanage and surrounding areas. The container will be filled with donated items such as educational tools, food, housing/orphanage needs, and sports equipment.

Where are they with donated items? They almost have enough to fill the container.  Just this week, McVay said they received a large donation from one gentleman who owned a warehouse and said to take anything needed to fill up the container.  The items are scheduled to be shipped in July 2012.

“What we need now is money,”  McVay says. “Today’s event is about raising the funds to buy the container outright.  (Cost is approx. $2,00 to 3,000)  Once we unload the donated goods, we’re going to turn it into a library. We want to also send some of our NoHo students on a two-week mission to Kenya to help distribute donations and set up the library.”

How many kids will be touched through this initiative?  Hundreds.  Children of all ages – newborn to 18 years old – at nine different orphanages.  McVay mentioned his students recently had the opportunity to Skype with some of the orphans.

“This was encouraging.  NoHo students talked with the kids whom they would be helping,” he said. “They got to see how their efforts will actually change lives. You could see the excitement on both sides.”

Later in the afternoon, there was a fashion show (clothing by designer Don Demarco’s clothing line), student performances and a silent auction.  I was under the weather so I couldn’t stay for this portion of the event, but I was happy to attend long enough to hear from members of the community.

A group of 10 makeup artists from April Love Pro Makeup Academy provided hair and makeup to the 14 female students who modeled in the fashion show. Olympic Artist Jesse Raudales created a painting specifically for the cause.  I asked about the title of the painting. “We are all God’s children.  We should help each other.  Helping one another is a blessing in itself,” he said.

Artist with his painting "God’s child”

I also met Lydia Floyd, founder and executive director of Hands for Hope, which offers a free after-school program serving students age 8 to 21 years old.  The organization promotes self-esteem and life skills to at-risk youths in single parent homes.  Floyd stresses the importance of community involvement and is grateful for her local sponsors.  In operation for 12 years, Lydia said it’s the community and regular fundraising events that keep the program alive.

There are three fundraising events planned for 2012.  In June, there’s a walk-a-thon (Hope Walk) at North Hollywood Park; it will also be a kids’ healthy activity fair. They are closing down the streets of NoHo in August for Street Hoops Jams, a three-on-three basketball tournament; and on November 9th, Hands for Hope is hosting the LA Sports Achievement Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Hands for Hope's Lydia Floyd w/ students from her program

This was a special afternoon for many.  In all honesty, I almost didn’t attend the event. I had been wrestling with a debilitating headache for two days.  But I forced myself to get off the couch and get ready. What can I say…I’m a sucker for a good cause. SO glad I rallied.  The event reminded me of the power of grassroots efforts and demonstrated what a community can do when they unite.

Kudos to McVay, the students, and the NoHo community for setting a great example to follow.   I urge those who have the means to get involved. To learn how, click here.

About kristinmartell:
Kristin Martell is a Pacific Punch Correspondent and Author of Damn the Odds. A recent Los Angeles transplant from Washington, DC, she’s pursuing her dream of acting while working as a PR consultant. Visit her at Follow the Pacific Punch on twitter @ThePacificPunch.


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